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State administrator resigns amid investigation into unsafe living conditions for Nevada's mentally ill

Megan Messerly
Megan Messerly
Health CareState Government
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The administrator who oversees public and behavioral health in Nevada resigned Friday amid an internal investigation into how the division allowed mentally ill patients to live in filthy and unsafe conditions and after it was discovered she was untruthful to a legislative committee.

Department of Health and Human Services Director Richard Whitley said Division of Public Health Administrator Amy Roukie “intentionally (made) false statements” to lawmakers Wednesday during a discussion of a legislative audit that identified filthy and unsafe conditions in community homes for Nevada’s mentally ill. His comments came in a letter to Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno, who chairs the Legislative Commission’s Audit Subcommittee where the audit was presented.

Roukie said in her testimony the department was replacing the deputy administrator in charge of mental health “because there are specific concerns” related to the audit of the homes, a statement Whitley characterized as “inaccurate” in the letter.

“I am disappointed a Division Administrator in the Department would intentionally make false statements before the Commission and offer you my sincerest apologies,” Whitley said in the letter. “Ms. Roukie has been relieved of her duties as Administrator effective today, January 19, 2018, and has elected to resign in lieu of termination.”

A department spokeswoman was not able to specify why deputy administrator Eddie Ableser stepped down from his post, although a Wednesday tweet confirmed Wednesday was his last day with the department.

Roukie’s resignation comes just a day after Whitley launched an internal investigation to identify specific failures within the department that allowed Nevada’s mentally ill to live in houses with feces smeared on the floor, spoiled food and dirty or leaking toilets. The so-called community-based living arrangement homes are supposed to provide those struggling with mental health issues an independent living arrangement while they receive behavioral support and training.

A department spokeswoman said the plan is for Deputy Director Julie Kotchevar to take over as interim administrator for the Division of Public and Behavioral Health. Kotchevar was tasked yesterday with overseeing the investigation into the community-based living arrangement homes.

Roukie took over as the division’s administrator in July after previously serving as the deputy administrator over mental health. Before joining the state in April 2016, Roukie worked as a regional medical practice administrator at Carson Tahoe Healthcare and the senior vice president of community triage centers for WestCare. She had also worked for the state managing budgets for the state’s health division from 2003 to 2008.

As division administrator, Roukie was responsible for overseeing the clinical services branch, which housed Nevada Adult Mental Health Services and Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services, the two agencies responsible for overseeing the community-based living arrangement homes.

The Wednesday meeting was not the first time the department and lawmakers were made aware of conditions in the homes. The department made a number of policy changes in March 2016 in the wake of a Reno-Gazette Journal story detailing similar conditions, changes Whitley had thought fixed the problem.

“Back in 2016 when we had the original housing issue with the complaint, the governor asked what we needed to address the problem. He put his trust in me to fix it,” Whitley said. “Now to see that we’ve been out there and didn’t act on seeing what the auditors saw, I have to know why that is and fix it now.”

In December, Chief Medical Officer John DiMuro resigned, alleging Roukie had created a “hostile” work environment, engaging in “demeaning communication, censure and bullying behavior” in his resignation letter to Whitley. He said in the letter that he had requested assistance to mitigate his concerns but received no support.

“Given the lack of support, resignation is my only course of action,” DiMuro wrote in the letter.


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